Update: Proceedings have been stayed through mid-April because of concerns over coronavirus and its impact.
Lawrenceville, GA— The lack of safety features in a tractor-trailer seat caused a trucker’s paralysis in a big rig rollover, an attorney for the trucker told jurors Tuesday as trial opened against the seat manufacturer. Hill v. Commercial Vehicle Group Inc., et al.. 17-C-07188.
“The quarter-roll tip-over of this cab on a basically flat area should have been a crash that was scary and unfortunate, but that ended with Josh [Hill] crawling out of the cab, with scratches bruises, and going back home to his son and his normal life,” Conley Griggs Partin’s Cale Conley said. “Instead, in just a quarter roll slide, Josh suffered multiple spine fractures, permanent damage to his spinal cord, had to be pulled from the cab by paramedics, and is paralyzed for the rest of his life.”
Joshua Hill, now 34, was paralyzed in the quarter-roll tractor-trailer crash on a rural Virginia road in December 2015. Hill contends the big rig’s seat, designed by Commercial Vehicle Group Inc. and its affiliate, lacked a pull-down system or another safety design that would have kept him from catastrophically striking his head near the vehicle’s roof.
The CVG-designed seat was part of an overall occupant restraint system in the cab of the Kenworth truck, built by PACCAR. And as trial opened, lawyers for Hill and CVG sparred over how much responsibility CVG had over the seat design.
On Tuesday, Conley walked jurors through evidence he said showed CVG ignored the ready availability of a pull-down system when designing the big rig seat. And he said CVG, as an expert in seat design, had the responsibility and authority to offer a safe seat to PACCAR. “It’s like if your kid’s going to have a birthday and you call up a baker and say ‘Hey, I want an 18-inch chocolate cake, round, [that will] feed 20 people.' That [doesn’t] make you the baker,” Conley said. “The baker’s the one that makes it. PACCAR said, ‘Hey, I want a seat.’”
But CVG contends the seat was properly designed according to PACCAR’s specifications and approved by the truck manufacturer. During Tuesday’s openings, Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial’s Christopher Byrd told jurors evidence would show the seat itself was not defective. And he said CVG was limited in what it could provide PACCAR under the manufacturer’s specifications. “We don’t design the occupant restraint system. PACCAR does,” Byrd said. “You have to produce the part they manufacture, pursuant to the specifications they give you.”
And Byrd told jurors that driver error, rather than any defect, actually caused the accident. Byrd said evidence would show the truck rolled over because Hill overcorrected on a turn after crossing a double yellow line in the road. “That hard right turn is what sent that truck into the rollover,” Byrd said. “Mr. Hill is the sole cause of this accident, the sole cause of this wreck.”
PACCAR and Indiana Mills & Manufacturing Inc., the company that made the tractor-trailer’s seat belt, were originally named as defendants, but are no longer defendants at trial.
Trial is expected to last through the end of next week.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
Joshua Hill is represented by Conley Griggs Partin’s Cale Conley, Davis Popper, and Scott Farrow, and by Noah Abrams, of Abrams & Abrams.
CVG is represented by Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial’s Frederick Sager, Jr., Christopher Byrd, and Benjamin Ralston.
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